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CARICOM Secretary General Irwin LaRocque (center) and members of the Technical Team

The United Nations Millennium Development Goal Number 1 calls for the reduction of the proportion and the absolute number of people who suffer from hunger and malnutrition by half by 2015. Unfortunately, high oil prices, expansion of ethanol production from corn, increased demand from developing countries such as China and India and climate change – giving rise to an increased frequency of natural disasters - has caused world food prices to continue being volatile and remain at high levels. High food prices are difficult for every citizen of the world however, for citizens of developing countries such as those in CARICOM, high food prices are even more crippling. This makes food and nutrition security one of the top priorities of regional leaders. The Secretary General of CARICOM, Irwin LaRocque, said, “Belize, Guyana and Suriname have a much greater role to play than others in the region in terms of food security.”

LaRocque was in Belize on October 23 and 24 meeting with the Prime Minister, Chief Executive Officers of Government, private sector representatives, youths and the media to discuss topics important to the region such as food security and others. The continuing increase in food prices could cause a regional crisis if action is not taken soon. His Excellency, Bharrat Jagdeo, President of the Republic of Guyana, is the Lead Head of Government with responsibility for Agriculture, Agricultural Diversification and Food Security in CARICOM. He has called for a greater sense of urgency in establishing regional food security by pointing to the Food and Agriculture Organization’s (FAO) prediction that “agricultural production will have to increase by 70% by 2050 to feed a population of some 9 billion people.” The FAO also predicts, “In the next 40 years, agricultural land will be lost to urbanization, desertification, sea level rise and increased salt water intrusion in which few crops can grow.” Experts also believe that the unpredictable world economic outlook combined with an increase in severity and frequency of extreme weather events will result in more volatile food production and prices.

All CARICOM member states are net food importers and price takers except for Belize, Guyana and Suriname. These three countries will play a crucial role in executing the Regional Policy for Food and Nutrition which aims to “ensure that the regional food production, processing, distribution, marketing, trade, and food safety and agricultural public health system is capable of providing safe, adequate, nutritious and affordable food for the region's inhabitants at all times, thereby achieving food and nutrition security.” There are four main areas of focus in the regional policy: food availability, food access, food utilization/nutrition adequacy and stability of food supply. CARICOM hopes to increase food availability by promoting the sustainable production, processing, preparation, commercialization and consumption of safe, affordable, nutritious, high quality Caribbean food commodities/products. This concerns food, agricultural, rural, infrastructural development, land use and trade issues. To make food more accessible, CARICOM plans to ensure regular access of Caribbean households, especially the poor and vulnerable, to sufficient quantities of safe, affordable, quality food at all times, particularly in response to diverse socio-economic and natural shocks. These are issues related to prices, incomes, agricultural public health, food safety and social development. In regards to food utilization/nutritional adequacy, CARICOM will improve the nutritional status of the Caribbean population, particularly with respect to Non-Communicable Diseases (NCDs) including diabetes, hypertension, overweight and obesity. This goal focuses on healthy lifestyle choices from early childhood-education, health, nutrition and social welfare issues. In order to establish a stable food supply, CARICOM will improve the resilience of the region’s national communities and households to natural and socio-economic crises. This goal addresses information and early warning systems, disaster preparedness and management, and adaptation to climate change issues.

LaRocque said, “I have taken office at a very challenging but interesting juncture in CARICOM integration history.” He continued to say that “perception about our regional integration is not at its strongest” but many hindrances that retard the integration process cease to exist. That is because regional leaders more clearly understand that we cannot promote social development for our people when we act in isolation. LaRocque said those hindrances no longer exist because leaders have accepted that regional integration “is not just about business; it’s not just about trade; it’s not just about production; it is, first and foremost, about people and all of these other things are means by which we seek to develop our people and develop our economies.”

The Guardian